EMPLOYING long-term and permanent staff must be a priority at south Essex hospitals alongside major improvements to healthcare facilities, a councillor says.

Major improvements will be made at the hospitals thanks to a funding boost of £110million from Government after south Essex MPs pressed ministers to release the cash.

However, figures from Mid and South Essex Hospital board papers revealed that in the first five months of the year £21.5million was spent on agency staff, while the trust is expecting to have a £50million financial deficit by the end of 2023/24.

Hospitals across the country spend tens of millions on agency staff as oppose to having permanent staff, which also often comes with an additional expenditure on paying private agency companies.

Southend West MP, Anna Firth, says she has been assured “there is enough staff” to go with the new improvements at the hospitals.

Daniel Cowan, leader of Southend Labour, said: “I think it is important to have that level of investment in our hospital. But staffing is a big concern. While investment is welcome, that investment is in physical assets, and what we also need investment is staff.

“That is in existing staff but also attracting, recruiting, and training new staff.

“Ultimately, we can build new units, new hospitals, doctors’ surgeries, all things people want, but they are just buildings unless there are enough staff to operate it. It is a real concern that significant amounts could go on agency staff but we have to also recognise the vast majority of agency staff have gone into that as it is better paid and less stressful. So, we need to use it to properly pay staff so they don’t feel they have to go down the agency route and can be employed by the NHS while knowing they can pay their bills.

As the funding is being released over the next 18 months, it is hoped the trust has enough time to ensure “the right staff are in place”.

Ms Firth added: “Recruitment and retention of staff is something I discuss regularly with the hospital at every visit. The hospital assures me that there is enough staff. Also, the advantage here is that there is 18 months to ensure the right staff are in place as the new improvements will not be ready until March 2025.”